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Thursday, June 12, 2008


supreme court restores habeus corpus

comforting news for advocates of the rule of law, which surely includes few in the bush white house.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have rights under the Constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.

In its third rebuke of the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners, the court ruled 5-4 that the government is violating the rights of prisoners being held indefinitely and without charges at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The court's liberal justices were in the majority.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times."

more from scotus blog.

In a stunning blow to the Bush Administration in its war-on-terrorism policies, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay have a right to pursue habeas challenges to their detention. The Court, dividing 5-4, ruled that Congress had not validly taken away habeas rights. If Congress wishes to suspend habeas, it must do so only as the Constitution allows — when the country faces rebellion or invasion.

... The Court also declared that detainees do not have to go through the special civilian court review process that Congress created in 2005, since that is not an adequate substitute for habeas rights. The Court refused to interpret the Detainee Treatment Act — as the Bush Administration had suggested — to include enough legal protection to make it an adequate replacement for habeas. Congress, it concluded, unconstitutionally suspended the writ in enacting that Act.

The Court also found serious defects in the process that the Pentagon set up in 2004 to decide which prisoners are to be designated as “enemy combatants” — the status that leads to their continued confinement. This process is the system of so-called Combatant Status Review Tribunals. The procedures used by CSRTs, the Court said, “fall well short of the procedures and adversarial mechanisms that would eliminate the need for habeas corpus review.”

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s opinion for the majority in Boumediene v. Bush (06-1195) and Al Odah v. U.S. (06-1196) was an almost rhapsodic review of the history of the Great Writ. The Suspension Clause, he wrote, “protects the rights of the detained by a means consistent with the essential design of the Constitution. It ensures that, except during periods of formal suspension, the Judiciary will have a time-tested device, the writ, to maintain the ‘delicate balance of governance’ that is itself the surest safeguard of liberty.” Those who wrote the Constitution, he added, “deemed the writ to be an essential mechanism in the separation-of-powers scheme.”

Even though the two political branches — the President and Congress — had agreed to take away the detainees’ habeas rights, Kennedy said those branches do not have “the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will.”

amen to that.

and how do you know when a person hasn't got a legitimate leg to stand on in an argument? they deliberately resort to baseless scare tactics.

In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts criticized his colleagues for striking down what he called "the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants."

Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also dissented.

Scalia said the nation is "at war with radical Islamists" and that the court's decision "will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."

if anyone is in a position to make that determination, it surely isn't some bloated narcissist sitting in a fortress/courtroom. these comments represent scalia at his nadir -- thoroughly politicized, without honest legal recourse and presenting the empty case of irrational fear and those who would manipulate it to their own ends. here the ideology of constitutional constructivism is ruthlessly exposed by its most pompous advocate as the lawless majoritarian jacobin creed of perpetual revolution by executive diktat. scalia doesn't even make a pretense of arguing legality here -- his view is that of expediency alone. such views make poor law, and scalia in propounding them only continues to make a travesty of his term.

of course, the fight to maintain the rule of law against the administration isn't over. as reason's radley balko pithily ponders:

I guess the only question now is whether the administration feels it's actually obligated to abide by the decision, or if it believes the president's absolute power in wartime means that in addition to ignoring Congress, he can ignore the Supreme Court, too.

perhaps the administration will try to recharacterize 9/11 as an invasion! :)

UPDATE: bush's reaction.

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